In 1999 there was a collective of neo-soul/Hip Hop artists dubbed the Soulquarians. Deep in the beginnings of rap’s peak era of commercialization, this was a group referred to as alternative. I only bring them up to highlight what this group looks like in hindsight 20 years later. The underdogs, the underground, the artists that stayed true to themselves, their message, and their craft, their insistence of remaining authentic and the music that came from them only got better with age. This group included the likes of Erykah Badu, Common, Mos Def, J. Dilla, D’Angelo, and The Roots among others. And it was The Roots that pulled all of those names together to collaborate on their breakout fourth album Things Fall Apart.

It was the culmination of a room populated by geniuses.

This room around this same time produced such works as Mama’s Gun, Like Water For Chocolate, Black On Both Sides, Fantastic Vol. 2, and Voodoo; some of the most celebrated albums in Hip Hop and R&B. Clearly there was an energy brewing. Things Fall Apart was one of the clearest symptoms of that energy. Allow me to further name drop. While this time and this moment was important for alternative rap, what was done and who was pulled together for it also reverberated outward into the heights of mainstream rap. Introduced through this collective and this project were the likes of Scott Storch who made waves through Aftermath, Eve who hit at the peak of Ruff Ryders, and Beanie Sigel who was one of the biggest acts on Rocafella; each of these labels being the most dominant in early 2000’s Hip Hop, not to mention the Soulquarians being the folks who brought the world Kanye West.

I don’t think it was an accident that the Roots came into their own at this particular time. With three albums in their rearview, they were no strangers to making good music. But, in my opinion, there was a certain comfort and synergy of vision between Black Thought’s rainy concrete stream of consciousness with the band’s gloomy black and white film tones. With all my heart I mean it when I say Thought is no different than any of the great American writers celebrated in academic circles. He is one example in Hip Hop of an artist who isn’t just a rapper really good at doing rap things, but rather a genuinely great writer with absolute power over pen and if he were born in a different time, his message would have simply been delivered through a different medium. This seamless blend of components is only accentuated by the album’s cover. Coupled with the title, this image of two young Black people running for their lives from a team of White police in what appears to be the Civil Rights Era pulls together this thing as a complete work of art. Put the cover in a gallery and write every lyric in the description card.

This album having dropped in 1999 is also part of a brilliant close to a brilliant decade. Every single year of those ten years introduced a handful of albums that creatively propelled the artform light years ahead of where it was prior. These days will be marked by a widespread insistance on breaking the rules; of absolutely destroying every convention and starting anew. On the flipside, the era this album came out in was all about absolutely mastering the rules laid down. The Rakims, Daddy Kanes, Slick Ricks, G Raps, among others presented to a generation a set of color palettes and techniques that would get picked up and used to make absolutely flawless works of art by the Nas’s, Mobb Deeps, Tibes, Biggies, Tupacs, and Snoops of the world, among others. With its unwavering dedication to the boom bap and corner cypher rah-rah style, The Roots slipped this one in: yet another mark of an era. This is that thing that that generation misses so much and is referring to when they talk about how the times have changed. And how perfect of a title for an album that came exactly at the end of such a decade, right before everything started to take on a new shape.

Happy 20 year anniversary to Things Fall Apart!

In 2019 we have politicians openly reminiscing about having smoked weed with Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur booming out of their cassette decks.

The times are changing.

We’re a far cry from what the way things used to be. My age group and those younger can’t properly appreciate this quantum leap in pop culture and how the climate of mainstream America shifted. Rappers are Grammy winners now; raw rap, dangerous rap, at that. Rappers are Oscar winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, White House visitors, museum installations, the subject of college courses, and so on. This is the norm.

But to listen to Tupac’s sophomore album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. is to experience the chaotic climate of 1994 in audio form: when Shakur’s cassette tapes among others were literally piled up on the ground and stomped on by politicians and protestors as if the sounds coming from them were a National Emergency. Let’s take a second to appreciate where we are now.

25 years ago this was a Shakur whose face was smashed into the gutter by Oakland PD and falsely charged by Marin PD. This was police brutality, riots, the war on drugs, and a Clinton administration that peddled terms like super-predator to describe Black boys. Not intended to be the original title of the tape, I understand the reason for its edit. It must be a trip for some of the older heads to see Pac in museums these days, but it’s refreshing to see his and others’ works seen through the lens of what was reserved for so-called legitimate art. And this is art, no different a statement piece than a Warhol in his prime. In this piece, the artist’s bold choice of title was a statement of the times. It was ironically more anti-pop and critical of the establishment than one would expect for a work that launched him into the mainstream. The title alone left nothing to the imagination in telling us who this project was for: reclaiming a word that this country gave us and him.

The title left nothing to the imagination telling us what this was about.

“Holler If Ya Hear Me” is track 1. A chest-pounding cry to the East Bay skies meant to ring from the ghetto to the prisons to 1600 Pennsylvania, it was a mission statement. It was a statement of pain, rage, and revolution upon the artist seeing fire all around him, setting the tone for an entire LP that kept that same energy.

It was also the beginning of Pac’s curious duality. It was curious for the times at least. The way I hear it described, times were much more black and white back then. Politicians absolutely did not talk about smoking weed and listening to rap music and rappers like Shakur were an unbridled menace, simple and plain. But what he offered on this tape included songs like “Keep Ya Head Up,” a softer tune partly dedicated to empowering the women in his life. And on the flipside was the tongue in cheek feel-good party anthem “I Get Around.” This was an artist who was just as likely to roar a call to arms to all those like him with empty stomachs as he was to show a side more gentle to the touch.

It must have been hard for the powers that be to put this young Black male in the box America insisted on narrating. Just the same, it must have been quite an experience to music executives to hear an artist who could be such perceived polar opposites at once. It set a blueprint for rappers for decades to come, this duality. In a business sense, this blueprint revolutionized what it meant to be a brand in rap and how one could market themselves but perhaps what resonated the most, to this day, is how one could articulate themselves as a human being. In 2019 we are living in a legacy partly attributed to him in that we are all living contradictions. Or rather, he helped us realize these very human qualities of ours were never contradictions in the first place. All of us are complex calculations of our environments: the hard, the soft, the wise elder, the charged youth, the inspired intention, the flawed execution, the mortal person and the larger than life persona. We all oscillate between these opposites and he put his own oscillation on full display at all times. He was keyed in in a way that we as a people could only properly catch up to decades down the line.

He once poignantly stated “what makes me saying ‘I don’t give a fuck’ different than Patrick Henry saying ‘Give me liberty or give me death’?” Rap was at one point low art. Now it is in museums, the home of high art, and way back in the 90’s he let it be known that those on the soil are no different and have just as much to contribute as the heroes America props up on pedestals. The tapes that were once stomped under the feet of politicians are now embraced with open arms, a transition that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

And what he laid down on this album so appropriately embodied that sentiment.

Happy anniversary to Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.



This was the album that destroyed G-Unit.

There’s the question of what would have been. I don’t know if you remember how big G-Unit was. They came to prominence around the time I got my first CD player, started illegally downloading my first MP3’s, and I thought the Unit was the end all be all. No seriously, I had no concept of a movement so big, so powerful, and with such a tight grip on pop culture ever ending. In just two years 50 Cent released two of the best selling albums of the genre, his group released a platinum selling album, and then each member of that group did the same. In my early teens I was a fanatic. So you can only imagine what it felt like to learn the latest guy from their fold was from the West Coast.

I was all wrapped up in the mythology at the time. I have vivid memories of some of my first prominent childhood summers being dominated by the sounds of The Chronic 2001. Dr. Dre was an icon and I knew it. Rap was still a thing that both my mom despised and I began to obsess over behind closed doors, sparked by such things as those keys on Still D.R.E.. It was infectious and I was the infected. 2005 was a year that still felt like an open wound inherited from the era prior; the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls still leaving fans hungry for characters of that magnitude. Jay-Z,a rapper to take up that mantle, was quote-unquote retired and some new major players started to step to the fold with this new empty landscape. Major players that went on to become today’s legends. Hindsight being 20/20, it was a very exciting time. And in 2005 how exciting was it to learn that Dr. Dre had a new protégé.

I don’t think his debut album means to you quite like it means to me. I got in trouble with my mom and wasn’t allowed to leave my room. I wasn’t allowed to do anything but read and listen to the radio. And when I turned on the radio there wasn’t but two songs on repeat all day every day: one of them being How We Do. Do you remember how much it slapped when it first hit? I didn’t know who the man was at that time. I heard Fif on it, still deep in his prime as a hitmaker and what was clearly Dre’s signature production style. I was hooked. But who was the other guy? I think I knew every word to the song by the time the video dropped and when it did I felt what I described before. G-Unit was unstoppable. G-Unit was forever. Shortly after, the video for Hate It Or Love It was released and I was thoroughly convinced I was witnessing the birth of something big. This tag team duo, 50 Cent and The Game clearly had all the chemistry in the world to go from this undeniable smash hit to this new hit that was much more personal, much more touching, and much more triumphant. This was different than the rollouts for any of the other members. This was still the era of the super-thug. And this was still the era of Hip Hop’s peak assembly-line commercialization. And here was this new act, backed by the machine, telling an honest story.

I don’t know if you felt like I felt when you pressed play.  This was still the era in the wake of Illmatic wherein rappers attempted to assemble The Avengers of hot producers at the time. And this one was quite an attempt. We’re talking about Dr Dre, Scott Storch, Kanye West, Just Blaze, Timbaland, Eminem, Havoc, Hi-Tek, and Buckwild among others; all with their own hefty contributions to Hip Hop history prior to this. And this was the last time we saw Dre lace a newcomer with so much of his name in the production credits for almost 15 years. Game and 50 were a dynamic duo like none other in the Unit. Maybe it was the pure ego sparked from this project, but something caused a legendary riff that ultimately led to the destruction of G-unit. This was the album that did it.

We never really think about this album in that lens. It was the last instance of pure unity among the group. It was the absolute peak of an era. After this, Game had a vendetta to put 50 in his place and 50, his boss, absolutely reciprocated that energy. Diss songs exchanged, Game was dropped from his label and went on to make an album without the titans that introduced him. And with him went unity and peace among that group that would slowly crumble the next few years into what we know now.

What a project. What a combination of talent. What a moment. What could have been, really.

Happy anniversary to The Documentary!

Back in 2011 @true_sf went up in flames. The two-alarm fire claimed the shop itself, a lot of merchandise, as well as a lot of memories. Out of the ash and rubble, a few of those memories survived.

Dave Chappelle is the Andre 3000 of comedy. He really does this all on his own terms and stays true to himself at all costs. Years prior he left his platform and decided to instead pop up in random comedy clubs throughout the country whenever he wanted, wherever he wanted, and absolutely crush it much like an Andre feature. Here in the Bay you’re liable to hear stories about Dave sightings because sometimes you’d be liable to seem him skating around just somewhere. You might have seen him buying a pack of smokes at that liquor store you always go to or he might pull up at True and spark up a brief conversation; super approachable and humble with his celebrity. The thing that strikes me about the man is his ability to exist in spaces: to traverse the more slapstick comedic world, then hang with your favorite rappers, then do something like interview Maya Angelou, and it all be seamless. If you ever see him around, just say hey.

Since it opened in ’96, the shop and Hip Hop have had a close and thorough relationship with one another. This is a beacon of small business in SF and somehow someway it survived a lot, including both a gutting of everything we know and associate with the city as well as the literal elements. In dedication to this idea of small business, perseverance, and lasting memories, I’ve got 42 polaroids in the chamber and 42 stories attached to them. Stay tuned for more surprises.

Jay-Z is the MVP of Hip Hop. Most talks of greatness within the genre tend to revolve around who is the GOAT. However on this day, in celebration of his birthday, I’d like to acknowledge just how much the man helped shape what is now the most dominant genre of music at this bend of the decade. And it wouldn’t be what it is without the very deliberate moves he made and continues to make. Next year he will be 50 years old, 30 years removed from his debut verse, and this year he somehow managed to best himself with one of the greatest verses of his career; a career that seems to never quit as he traverses further along territory that was uncharted miles ago.

Capping the year off with a guest verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free?” finds Jay-Z in a different place than he began, though it is born from his first mission statement. There was a point in time when Hip Hop became stigmatized for its materialism and flaunting of riches. In 2018 Jay-Z is the embodiment of where that point in time led to. Some people find it ironic that the last couple of years Jay started to take on the characteristics of a so-called concious rapper. This was the man that unabashedly rapped “truthfully I want to rhyme like Common Sense, but I did five mil, I ain’t been rhyming like Common since,” detailing how he specifically chose not to rap with the depth of an artist like Common in order to sell more records. This was Mr. Big Pimpin’, christal and designer clothes on yachts, Mr. “I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars,” and now all of a sudden his tune seems to have changed. It might seem weird that this billionaire all of a sudden morphed into a hippie, complete with the look to boot. It’s weird until you realize that all this time Jay was stacking up toward freedom.

He’s in the middle of beating the game.

“Three-fifths of a man, I believe’s the phrase,” he begins his What’s Free? verse, making clear the historic notion of Black worth in America. In the era of Black Lives Matter, a statement made to emphasize our value and combat a culture informed by that history of slavery, Jay goes on to bullet-point his literal worth which gives him the power and mobility to destroy these institutions. “I’m 50% of D’USSÉ and it’s debt free,” he continues, “100% of Ace of Spades, worth half a B, Roc Nation, half of that, that’s my piece, hunnid percent of TIDAL to bust it up with my G’s.” There was a time when materialism in Hip Hop was stigmatized. The braggadocio was looked down on. The genius of what Jay did was put a focus on ownership. So while Hip Hop got its first taste of big money and rappers started to buy big in well-earned celebration, Jay learned that it is better to keep one’s money in-house and circulating. Why promote another company’s liquor when you can promote your own? Why wear other brand’s in your videos when you can own your own? Why sign to a label when you can make your own and why rely on another streaming service when you can have your own? The list goes on and throughout the years Jay laid out a blueprint of how to work a system he ultimately had the intention of breaking.

He broke it. I’ll never forget a photo I caught from his Made In America festival. Pictured backstage was former president Bill Clinton and rapper Travis Scott having a casual conversation. I don’t know what that means to you, but to me that is so subtly indicative of Jay’s genius. In this decade, those two figures represent exactly the spaces Jay-Z occupies and retains the ability move seamlessly between. Around 15 years ago he made the simple decision to stop wearing throwback jerseys and baggy jeans and start wearing suits. Being as influential as he was at that time, the culture shifted along with him, as did the connotation of what a rapper looks like and what spaces they’re able to travel in. In one move he destroyed a system of associations and expectations. That alone was revolutionary. A simple change of clothes and a tweak in branding sat him next to the Oprah’s and Warren Buffet’s of the world. This series of associations domino effected into what we see today: a genre that is able to comfortably sit next to the highest ranks of American politics or ecomonics and still set foot in the soil, the street, and the culture it came from. I’ve seen Jay-Z pictured with Barack Obama one day and Gucci Mane the next.

Every genre that makes a splash does so in protest to the current state of culture. The Hippie movement was important in times of war. The Punk movement was important in times of conformity and standardization. And if I’m going to be absolutely candid with you, what we’re seeing with Hip Hop is something so much grander in scale and deeper in meaning and impact. The genre’s beginnings was that of the story of Black America, a story born from bondage, struggle, and the fight for freedom and one’s own humanity. It is a story populated by some of the greatest spirits and minds in human history tasked with this puzzle just the same as it is populated by martyrs. And out of that came Hip Hop, a new language and style of revolution and storytelling. What makes Jay-Z in particular so awe-inspiring was the order in which he unfolded this thing. Yes, in 2003 he opted to not rhyme like Common and a sect of the Hip Hop community took offense. What he did do, however, was build real-world power, influence, and ownership to the point where any powers-that-be couldn’t shut him down. The Hippie movement was important in times of war, Punk was important in times of conformity, and in this era of Black Lives Matter it means something to see a Black billionaire grow his nappy hair out. It means something to see a prominent Black man from the hood make albums exploring his feelings, expressing his joys, propping up his wife and children, advocating for unity among the community, and promoting financial freedom. It means something to see a War On Drugs-era Black Man step into the first Black president’s White House. It means something to know that he can’t be bought.

It means something to see a Black man own himself.

Happy birthday to the MVP.

Back in 2011 @true_sf went up in flames. The two-alarm fire claimed the shop itself, a lot of merchandise, as well as a lot of memories. Out of the ash and rubble, a few of those memories survived.

It takes a certain kind of artist to be in rare form 25 years into their career. Black Thought of The Roots is one of those artists and I would even go as far as to say the man keeps getting sharper. Streams of Thought Vol. 2 is just that. It is the energy of someone who would have been doing this no matter the era. In another world he was a classic American writer. A few years back he and The Roots would stop by the shop every now and then and despite having the mind of a computer, he was always down to earth and humble. These days he’d have every right to be cocky. There weren’t really rap bands back in 1993 and this era saw a huge surge of live instrumentation. In hindsight, The Roots caught that wave before a lot of these acts were born. There’s a moral somewhere in Thought’s career about staying true to yourself.

Since it opened in ’96, the shop and Hip Hop have had a close and thorough relationship with one another. This is a beacon of small business in SF and somehow someway it survived a lot, including both a gutting of everything we know and associate with the city as well as the literal elements. In dedication to this idea of small business, perseverance, and lasting memories, I’ve got 42 polaroids in the chamber and 42 stories attached to them. Stay tuned for more surprises.